Main communication barriers in the law enforcement field and their remedy    

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Effective communication is a critical element within the law enforcement field, as poor communication could change a person’s life.  It is, therefore, imperative that communication with witnesses, victims, attorneys and law enforcement agents be as effective as possible.  Law enforcement officers should be skilled in both written and oral communication.  This paper focuses on the main communication barriers by illustrating how these barriers can be fixed with both limited and unlimited resources.

Main Communication Barriers in the Law enforcement Field and their Remedies

A barrier can be defined as something that strains or obstructs a process or activity.  Communication barriers affect the way law enforcers communicate and provide services to their communities, thus jeopardizing their safety as well as efficiency in providing services to these communities.  The most common challenge is the language barrier, which has been escalated by the increase in foreign-born populations in different countries.  It becomes a challenge for law enforcers to do a routine traffic stop or even during their investigations when they speak a language that is different from that of the people involved.  In the United States, 85 percent of the people appearing in the immigration courts have Limited English Proficient (LEP).  These people have to present their case to the immigration judge who decides whether they can stay or leave with their families.  In most cases, their communication is impeded by interpreters who fail to interpret important parts or issues about the case due to lack of the basic interpretation skills or even because they speak the wrong language (Abel, 2009).  This may result in people losing their freedom, families, homes, and livelihoods due to lack of understanding.

This, however, should not be the case.  The Department of Justice in the United States, in accordance to the Executive Order 13166 (which requires all federal agencies to provide ‘meaningful access’ to individuals with limited LEP),  makes it clear that in the context of courts, meaningful access at its minimum should include: provision of interpreters during all hearings, trials, and motions ( during which the individuals must and/or be present); screening to ensure the interpreters have the necessary skills and knowledge for court interpretation; training so that judges and other court personnel know how to use interpreters if they come into contact litigants or witnesses with a limited proficiency in English (LEP); and lastly, translation of all vital documents, key forms and documents with information on rights and responsibilities (Abel, 2009).

Despite the order for meaningful access and the requirements, most of these minimums, if not all, are rarely adhered to, even by the Department of Justice immigration courts.  In most cases, these case proceedings do not have interpreters and when they do, these interpreters do not possess the necessary skills and end up making mistakes in their interpretations.  Problems arise in different categories in the provision of requirements of meaningful access to the people with LEP.  Such a problem is the partial interpretation, which hinders LEP respondents’ ability to understand the proceedings (Abel, 2009).  In most courts, interpretation is only done for statements addressed to the person with LEP, but in other court proceedings, there is no interpretation.  This could interfere with the person’s ability to understand the proceedings like when judges speak to attorneys or even testimonies by other witnesses who understand English.

The quality of the interpretation is another important factor.  Some of the interpreters may not be efficient at what they do thus interpreting wrongly.  This can be very crucial especially in cases that could lead to the deportation of the concerned person with LEP.  It is, therefore, important that interpreters be properly screened to ensure that they are well skilled and efficient in their interpretation.  The mode of interpretation is also essential.  When using simultaneous interpretation, there should be equipment such as earpiece to ensure the LEP respondent is not confused when being addressed.

Quality of interpretation can also be compromised by the use of inadequate telephone and video conference technology.  In cases where the interpreter cannot physically appear in court, video conferencing and telephone interpretation are used.  Since interpreters depend on visual and sound cues to determine the tone as well as the style of speech used, this may not be achieved using the telephone interpretation.  Use of the speakerphone is the most common because it is the least expensive, but has a limitation in terms of sound quality, which is often very poor.  Telephone interpretations are also prone to interruptions, and delays, which would mean the detainee, would have to spend more time in detention.

Other than language barrier, poor listening skill is another challenge in the law enforcement field.  Officers often view communication as a one-way activity in which they are the ones to issue directions and orders that are to be obeyed by the people involved.  To them, whenever these orders are obeyed, then it is okay, but the problem arises when people fail to obey the orders because just like them, people are poor listeners.  There is a lot to be considered during the listening process such as the tone of the speaker, the rate of speech, the inflection, eye contact the speaker makes when speaking and the speakers’ body language.  The kind of message sent when speaking is important as it determines the kind of response one receives.   Therefore, it is extremely important that law enforcers master the art of listening in order to avoid confrontations that could lead to death because of lack of effective communication between the officer and the civilian.

In connection to listening, hearing is another challenge.  Hearing and listening follow each other, in that, hearing comes before listening.  Hearing is the ability to detect sound moving ridges and convey these sound waves to the encephalon (Wallace et al., 2009).  In order to assess the message and give feedback, the hearer has to concentrate on what the other person is saying, and give meaning to the words being said to understand the significance of these words and react to what has been said.

Physical barriers that interfere with the movement of messages are another challenge to the law enforcement field.  These include problems with the weather, distance, and failure in technology.  A stiff concatenation of bid is a physical barrier that hampers to the flux of communicating (Wallace et al., 2009).  This implies that a series of orders acts as a physical barrier to communication.

Emotional barrier is yet another challenge in the law enforcement field.  Emotional barriers are present when emotions are used during communication making the communication to be less effectual (Wallace et al., 2009).  Officers with low self-pride will add questions in their statements as a way of looking for acceptance and as a way of avoiding rejection.  “An officer with low self-pride may be unforthcoming with sentiments about the cause of an accident or who committed an offense” (Wallace et al., 2009).  This could interfere with their work as their judgment can be biased because of their low self-pride.  Offenses may go unpunished as a way of them trying to seek acceptance from people.  Their fear of rejection can cloud their judgment.  An emotional barrier can be resolved by use of peer support systems (Wallace et al., 2009).  The peer support systems can help by officers attending these sessions as mandatory in order to avoid a crisis.

Semantic barriers can be defined as a line in communicating whereby there is a failure to hold on the importance of words and footings thereby creating an inability to pass in a clear and concise mode (Wallace et al., 2009).  It comprises of symbolic obstacles, which interfere with a sent message in some way making understanding the message difficult.  This could be as a result of using words with different meanings or symbols with different meanings from person to person.  As a result, when a message is sent by a sender to the receiver, the receiver may interpret the message wrongly.  Denotative barrier arises when the definition or meaning of a word is used by the sender and receiver differently.  An example is the word braces, which in American English refers to a metallic structure used to adjust teeth while in British English it refers to a part of clothing.  These semantic barriers are caused by the use of homophones (words with the same pronunciation but different meanings), homonyms (words with same pronunciation and spelling but different meanings) and homographs (words with the same spelling but pronunciation and meaning are different).

Other contributors to the semantic barriers include cultural differences, gestures, body language, and use of ambiguous words.  When semantic barriers are not there, communication can be effective and the message reaches the intended person.

While most of these barriers require the availability of unlimited resources to be resolved, some of them can be solved with the limited available resources.  Language barrier as a result of poor interpretation can be solved by having thorough screening during recruitment of court interpreters.  The courts can also establish training and testing center where training can be provided according to the courts’ requirements as well as testing for the skills learned.  This process should also include issuance of a certificate after complete training.  It should also be a requirement that they interpret everything said during immigration proceedings and not just statements addressed by or to an LEP individual (Abel, 2009).  Although this would require unlimited resources, much importance should be given to this problem as it could adversely affect the future of the LEP individual.

While some physical barriers such as weather cannot be controlled, those involving distance and failure in technology can be solved using the available resources.  Governments should invest more in technology as a way of resolving this barrier.  The equipment used such as public safety communication systems should be of high quality to avoid these occasional failures.  There should also be a way in which the public can be able to reach these law enforcers, like through a cellular network, which connects the public and the police.  This would enhance safety.

Semantic barriers can be solved by active listening.  By being active listeners, people can process the information received and give feedback.  After feedback has been given, the sender will be able to find out whether the message was correctly received and interpreted.  This would require little or no resources to implement.  Law enforcement officers need to view communication as a two-way process and not just a process in which they give orders and instructions, which are to be followed.


It is evident from the communication barriers mentioned above that language barrier is the most challenging because of the grave consequences it has, especially for LEP individuals.  It is also the most costly to resolve and requires the availability of unlimited resources for it to be effectively dealt with. This, however, does not imply that the other barriers should be swept under the carpet.  Measures should be taken to ensure these barriers are controlled, if not completely resolved.

Did you like this sample?
  1. Abel, L. (2009).  Language Access in Immigration Courts.
  2. Wallace, H., & Robertson, C. (2009). Written and interpersonal communication: Methods for law enforcement (4th Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
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